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Wolverines receive much-needed protection from the Endangered Species Act

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the protection of the wolverine population in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This move is a significant victory for conservationists who have campaigned for decades to secure legal protections for this rare wilderness species.

Long-fought conservation battle

The decision to list the wolverine as threatened under the ESA is the culmination of a prolonged campaign by conservationists, involving six rounds of successful litigation. Timothy Preso, an Earthjustice attorney, expressed his satisfaction with the decision. He said, “This long-awaited decision gives the wolverine a fighting chance at survival.”

The journey began in 1994 when conservation organizations first filed petitions, filing again in 2000, urging for the classification of the wolverine as a threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, over the years, the service consistently postponed and hindered the listing process for the wolverine, compelling those advocating for the species to seek legal action to enforce the act.

Earthjustice, along with its allied groups, achieved success in every lawsuit they pursued for the wolverine’s protection. They consistently secured victories either via court decisions in their favor or through advantageous settlement deals.

Why wolverines are endangered

Dave Werntz from Conservation Northwest and Michael Saul from Defenders of Wildlife emphasized the importance of this decision in light of the challenges posed by climate change. Wolverines, dependent on snowpack for their survival, are facing an uncertain future due to global warming.

“The decision today gives a boost to struggling wolverines across the west,” said Werntz. “The future for wolverines in the North Cascades and elsewhere is now much brighter.”

With no more than 300 individuals remaining in the lower 48 states, the wolverine, the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, is endangered by habitat loss due to climate change. Pregnant females rely on deep snow for birthing and raising their young.

“The science is clear: snowpack-dependent species like the wolverine are facing an increasingly uncertain future under a warming climate,” Michael Saul explained. “The protections that come with Endangered Species Act listing increase the chance that our children will continue to share the mountains with these elusive and fascinating carnivores. Now it’s time to support the species’ future by bringing them back to the mountains of Colorado as well.”

Andrea Zaccardi from the Center for Biological Diversity expressed joy over the decision, noting the overdue nature of these protections. Megan Mueller from Rocky Mountain Wild highlighted the importance of reintroducing wolverines to Colorado as a refuge from climate change.

Historical context and current challenges

Historically, wolverines roamed across the northern United States, reaching as far south as New Mexico and Southern California. Today, traps, human disturbance, and low genetic diversity pose risks to their limited and fragmented populations.

George Sexton from the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Jeff Abrams from the Idaho Conservation League emphasized the significance of the decision for regional recovery efforts.

“Wolverines have been completely driven out of the Klamath Mountains where they once roamed, this is an important step to ensure that they are not driven off the planet,” said Sexton.

“Biologists estimate a loss of more than 40% of suitable wolverine habitat in Idaho by 2060 if we fail to act,” Abrams added. “This decision allows us to move forward on recovery actions to prevent such extensive loss of wolverine habitat and recover wolverine populations.”

Bonnie Rice from Sierra Club called the decision a lifeline for the snow-dependent species, saying, “Today’s decision gives this amazing, snow-dependent species a long-overdue lifeline in the face of massive habitat loss due to climate change.”

In summary, the long-overdue move by the USFWS marks a pivotal moment in the conservation of endangered wolverines in the United States. It not only offers legal protection, but also sets the stage for recovery programs and initiatives. Earthjustice and their allies earned a hard-fount victory and a beacon of hope for this iconic wilderness species.

More about wolverines

Wolverines, known for their formidable strength and resilience, thrive in some of the most inhospitable climates on Earth. These solitary mammals, often misunderstood, play a crucial role in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Physical characteristics

Wolverines, the largest members of the Mustelidae or weasel family, display a bear-like appearance. They have a stocky build, broad heads, and short, rounded ears.

Their thick, dark brown fur, often with light facial markings and a pale stripe running from each shoulder to the base of their tail, provides insulation against extreme cold. Wolverines also have large, five-toed paws with sharp claws, making them excellent climbers and diggers.

Wolverine habitat and distribution

Wolverines are adapted to cold, boreal forests, tundra, and alpine environments. They predominantly inhabit the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Canada, Alaska, northern Europe, and Russia.

Their home ranges are vast, spanning hundreds of square miles. Being solitary animals, they require large territories for hunting and scavenging.

Diet and hunting behavior

Carnivorous in nature, wolverines feed on a variety of foods. Their diet primarily consists of carrion, small mammals, birds, and occasionally fruits and berries.

Wolverines are opportunistic feeders and have been known to take down prey much larger than themselves, such as deer, using their powerful jaws and sharp teeth.

Reproductive behavior

Wolverines mate in the summer, but the implantation of the embryo is delayed until winter. Births occur in the early spring.

Females give birth to two to three kits in dens insulated with snow, which provide protection and warmth. The young wolverines are weaned after a few months but often stay with their mother until the next breeding season.

Adaptations for survival

Wolverines have several adaptations that aid their survival in harsh climates. Their fur is frost-resistant, and their wide paws act like natural snowshoes, supporting them in deep snow. Wolverines also have a keen sense of smell, allowing them to locate food buried deep beneath the snow.

Threats and conservation

As discussed above, wolverines face threats from habitat loss, climate change, and human activities such as trapping and hunting. Their dependency on snow-covered terrain makes them particularly vulnerable to global warming. Conservation efforts, including legal protections and habitat conservation, are crucial for their survival.

Role of wolverines in ecosystems

As apex scavengers, wolverines play a vital role in their ecosystems by helping to keep them clean and free of carrion. They also impact the populations of smaller predators and prey, maintaining a balance in their habitats.

Wolverines, with their fierce reputation and remarkable adaptability, are fascinating creatures deserving of admiration and protection. Understanding and conserving these resilient animals is essential for maintaining the health and balance of the ecosystems they inhabit.

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